29 May 2022


Morning runs, positive feedback loops and infinite sustainability

There is no redemption in suffering for the sake of suffering. No story, no pride to be upheld, no post to upload.

We do the hard things, not because they are hard, but because they are worth it.

I was talking with a close friend about the topic of morning routines. He was seeking some advice on how to get started in establishing a system for his own life. To him, it seemed like I had my life organised, but in reality I was no expert in ‘best practices’. All I could do was share with him what I knew worked well for me, the everyday boot up sequence that I run through every morning. It typically includes water, exercise, coffee, journaling and a slow breakfast — all ideally before the day even properly begins.

The question of, ‘why do you do all that you do that early in the day?’ was an easy one to answer. I do these things not because someone else told me to or because some YouTube video pumped the concepts into my head, but because they work for me.

More often than not, when I go for a run the sky is still dark and the early morning temperatures presents itself as an formidable opponent. The instinctive response is to fold and submit back into the warmth of the bed and the comforting embrace of sleep.

The voice in my head whispers, ‘just this once, sleep in.’

This is the siren song. The funny thing is, as tempting as it is to pass on the morning run and expend the time snoozing instead, the outcome is almost guaranteed to be filled with regret and frustration —  just like the sailors wrecking their vessels on rocky coasts after falling into the arms of temptation. All things considered, this is a terrible starting position for the rest of the day to be built upon.

On the days when I do manage to tune out the alluring voices and to do the thing I was supposed to do, the outcome is almost guaranteed to be a positive one— no matter how the run actually turns out, too. The battle is mostly won, by the time the feet crosses the threshold of the front door.

‘Oh, the cold is not as bad as I had thought after all.’

‘Oh, the paths are empty? Amazing, I have it all to myself.’

By then, it is also too late to turn back, so the run naturally commences.

There is some magic that lies at the end of the tunnel of physical exertion that keeps me coming back, the reward so sweet that it makes it oh-so-easy to gloss over the tribulations that had to be overcome in the lead up to and during the activity itself.

So, why do I run? I run because it makes me feel great. The same goes for all the other activities in my morning routine.

Why do I journal? Because it helps me organise my scattered brain and to think more clearly.

Over time, these processes have become automatic and cemented by habits, reaching a stage where I no longer have to expend mental energy in deciding whether I should or should not commit to a task. The answer is simply ‘yes’, and all there is left to do is to execute, without thought and without emotion. I do these things because they nourish the rest of my life, and feel pain when I have to do without.

At the end of it all, when it comes to routines and habits, the core element that has to exist is sustainability, over an infinite timeline. If you pick up an activity just because someone else said so or that you feel agitation each time you attend to the task, it is highly unlikely that you will have the endurance it takes to make such actions become permanent fixtures in your life.

To repeatedly do something day-after-day, week-after-week and year-after-year, the outcome has to outweigh the required inputs of time, energy and attention — it has to fuel you more than it consumes, it has to reward you in ways that make the feats of endurance worthwhile. Otherwise, you will do it a handful of times and then never again.

So, what if you do not have a morning routine? Nobody cares. What matters most is to ask and address the question: are the small, little things you do every single day serving you as best as possible?

Are they fuelling you with more than they consume? How do you feel about yourself when doing these things?

In the spirit of high leverage everyday things, I continue to believe that a happy life consists of a continuous accumulation of small, happy moments — not the transient blips of joy that come from big purchases, public achievements or one-off celebrations.

When I travel, there’s always a moment when I’m not me anymore. The habits that you rely on to get you through life, that you wear like a cloak, don’t work anymore, and you come face to face with a naked you.

The time you have spent in your life so far and the time that has flowed in the place you are visiting interchange, and a new kind of time starts flowing within you.

— Kamo Aso